Interpublic Group (IPG) chairman and CEO Michael Roth, made his first-ever onstage appearance in Singapore in a live interview with Campaign’s brand director Atifa Silk at the 2019 Spikes Festival of Creativity.
Roth, who joined IPG’s board in 2002 before taking on the leadership role three years later, is credited with the financial turnaround of one of the world’s largest advertising holding companies.
When Roth joined the IPG Board as an independent member he had no experience in advertising. He was a CPA Tax Attorney who was bought in to clean up the company when it was facing one of its darkest periods.
He joined as a member of the audit and finance committees and began to learn about the business. His job was to fix “material weaknesses” in IPG’s internal controls over financial accounting.
Three years later the Board asked him to step in and take on the leadership role. Roth says “that’s what happens when you talk a lot as a Board member and ask a lot of questions”.
He found the business model fascinating and started to rethink the manner in which the holding company operated. Roth says, “we did away with silos and got rid of over 50 companies that competed against each other for the same business and that didn’t make sense to me. It was about meeting the needs of our clients.”
Today things look decidedly different with IPG consistently outperforming its peers. Roth attributes the success of IPG on refocusing the holding company that was different from other holding companies who “focus on things that are not client-centric and not human-oriented”.
“We’ll continue to outperform,” Roth says. “The focus is on our clients, our talent, diversity and inclusion. We want to be the company our clients want to do business with and people want to work with. The only way to do this is to foster an entrepreneurial spirit within our business.”
Roth emphasised the company’s value of diversity and inclusion as a business imperative, even in the midst of an impending economic downturn.
“Commitment to inclusion is not only an important initiative but a competitive advantage over the rest of the industry,” he says.
“It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do. 57 per cent of our managers are female now, but if you look at our industry, it’s fairly pathetic in terms of representation of women. And then when you look at people of colour and Asians and different backgrounds. We just don’t represent the marketplace, as an industry.”
Roth went on to say, “this is a business of communication. How can you communicate with the consumer and do quality work and represent your clients in reaching those consumers if you don’t understand the consumer? And if you look at the marketplace, the consumer is diverse individuals.”
After showing a short video of Cannes Lions Grand Prix winning work for Ikea, that make the homeware brand’s furniture more accessible to those with disabilities, Roth added, “it’s not just the consumers that are using the product. Think about how people think about that company now. This work develops a relationship that can’t be broken. And in today’s world, when everybody is fighting commercial competition, and price competition, the only way you can compete with that is to develop the value of the brand.”
Roth finished off by mentioning IPG’s US$2.3 billion acquisition of Acxiom and what the purchase will do for the holding company. IPG has focused on using Acxiom’s data capabilities across its media agencies, integrated and trained teams on how to use the data and retooled some of its leadership positions across both Acxiom and its agencies.
“Two-thirds of the Axciom business is first-party data management. If you take that competency, and overlay the issues today with privacy, and couple that with our creative capabilities and media capabilities and PR and experience, all together, that’s the holy grail of our business. And we’re seeing positive results.”
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